Million Dollars To Kill Me, the new full-length effort from Joyce Manor, begins with an almighty thwack of percussion, an immediate rush of power and prowess that kick-starts their fifth LP with the kind of wide-eyed vivaciousness that has been with the band from day one.
On paper, however, it’s a record that finds the band in somewhat uncharted territory, following on from 2016’s Cody LP which saw the Californian collective turn more inward than ever before, embracing their fear of ageing by teaming up with producer Rob Schnapf, famed for his work with the likes of Elliott Smith and Beck, among other world-weary wordsmiths. There was a supposition, then, that Million Dollars To Kill Me might well channel those influences to even more jaded depths, but the truth, it turns out, is somewhere in the murky in between; the new collection certainly offering a couple of their most plaintive tracks to date, but also characterised by the band’s signature sub two-or-three minute bursts of adrenaline-fuelled rock and roll. Front-to-back, the ten tracks here just about creep over the twenty-minute mark.
“America is all fucked up, and always has been.”
“I just wanted to make something that was really fun to listen to,” Barry Johnson says of the new record, with the kind of plain-stated manner that has always sat at the band’s core. “Almost like early Beatles or Rolling Stones singles mixed with a kinda Tigers Jaw thing. It ended up sounding pretty cool.”
While it might sound like the record was a fast-and-furious undertaking, the roots of Million Dollars… actually lie somewhere else entirely, Johnson sharing song ideas with one of his musical heroes (Rory Phillips of The Impossibles) over email before those sketches found a new life of their own within Joyce Manor’s garden. “I was really happy with the results and asked if he would be cool with me using some of the songs,” Johnson attests. “We used a few of them almost exactly as they were, and a few of them we re-worked slightly as a band. Then we wrote a few more as a band and BAM we had a new Joyce Manor record. The songwriting process is obviously very different,” Johnson continues. “It was definitely a challenge to get the two different types of songs to gel and form a record but I think we pulled it off and the album is stronger for it.”
Billed as the natural follow-up to Cody‘s coming-of-age mantra, Million Dollars To Kill Me feels like a warped conflict throughout, the push-and-pull of modernity unraveling across songs that know exactly when to leap forward and when to fade away into the ether. Characterised, once again, by its producer, the new record was recorded at the Salem studio of Converge’s Kurt Ballou; marking the first time the band had recorded outside of LA, a brief relocation that found them sleeping “right upstairs in bunk beds.”
“We wanted to work with Kurt because we have been fans of his production forever,” confirms Johnson. “I don’t think the location really impacted the record that much. We knew what we wanted to do and just played it down with a pro.”
Closed out by the jangle-pop of ‘Wildflowers’ – perhaps the band’s sweetest moment to-date Million Dollars To Kill Me feels something like a magnified glimpse into life as many of us know it in 2018; an endless flick-book of emotions that never seem to settle, leaping from love to scorn, from pleasure to pain, with no discernible end in sight. “America is all fucked up, and always has been.” Johnson states, mirroring that same sense of stoic endurance. “It sometimes feels a little dumb to be making art, but I guess you have to do something with your life.”